CITY & CINEMA - Dazed and Confused (Austin, TX)

There are certain films that expertly evoke the feel of a location. Be it a city in Europe, a town made of suburban sprawls or a farm in the middle of nowhere, we are all able to identify films that do this. The film has made the location a character. The film would be incomplete without this place. The film has made us so deeply familiar with the environment, regardless of whether we have visited or not. The audience leaves the film longing for this place.

This is City & Cinema

By Tessa Lillis

My home is Austin, Texas. The land of live music, exceptional tacos and laid-back living, Austin is also the stomping ground of director Richard Linklater. Linklater, having directed masterpieces such as Boyhood, The Before Trilogy and School of Rock (yes, I am calling School of Rock a masterpiece), the director has definitely made his name known. Where did he start out? In Austin Community College. Following several short films and the offbeat movie, Slacker, Linklater finally released Dazed and Confused, a refreshing depiction of rising high school seniors livin’ it up in 1970s Austin.


I simply cannot help but directly associate this film with the city of Austin. This, I have come to notice, is part of the genius in his filmmaking, as Linklater has made Austin a character along with Pink, O’Bannion, Darla and Slater. He outlined Austin’s complexities and what makes it utterly unique as if the director was treating the city as a character. There are references to its mix of southern traditions and radical youth, its love for music and, of course, the presence of high schoolers driving around or drinking beers until sunrise. What is so refreshing about this depiction is, given my own coming-of-age in this city, it is absolutely accurate; students go to the local school’s sporting event, people always catch up at the end of the day in the school parking lot and everyone celebrates big time when the academic year is finally over. 


Part of making Austin such a stand-out characteristic of the film is undoubtedly the inclusion of iconic institutions throughout the plot. Austin has changed dramatically and rapidly compared to when the film was set and when it was actually filmed (1990s), though places that are so quintessentially Austin are still recognisable for any local. West Enfield Park where the kids partied, for example, or Burnet Road where they drive all night long are still so Austin.


And who could forget Top Notch, the local burger place where the characters meet up to get greasy fries? I have been getting burgers and sweet potato fries here since I was a child, and little did I know that I would grow up to eventually frequent the burger joint with friends in high school similar to the characters. Top Notch has completely embraced their inclusion in the film, displaying props from the movie like the hazing paddles and t-shirts worn by the characters. They also regularly hosting screenings of the film (there is always one on April 20th, think about it), which we Austinites love! 


Although many interpret the film as only idealising Austin in a different and simpler time, I believe it to be entirely realistic and inclusive even of the hesitancy to live in such a period. Although the film revolves around the easy living and still hopeful lives of teenagers in the 70s, Linklater expertly includes the unfavourable circumstances of this era: extreme and sometimes terrifying hazing in the south, whispered racist remarks by characters, the claustrophobic feeling of staying put in a town and even a pregnant woman smoking while buying alcohol. So, even though I too see it as a nostalgic cry for the simpler times in the past, Linklater manages to both celebrate this period but also emphasise the progress within the city that we sometimes take for granted.


Ultimately, it’s not only the locations and southern traditions that make the film very Austin, but it’s also the entire feel of the film. These high schoolers are young, but they are living in a city that encourages stimulating discussion about life, happiness and purpose. It is a city that says you should do what you want to do. If you don’t want to discuss it, that’s fine! Austin also emphasises the importance of just living life and spending time with friends while driving in a car with the windows down. So, when watching this film, I do feel a strong tug to my hometown. I am reminded of my adolescence, the people of Austin and the city’s attitude in all but two hours. Richard Linklater showed the world that in Austin people just keep livin’. L-i-v-i-n. 


All gifs and pictures are credited to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), Gramercy Pictures

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